Wednesday, March 18, 2009

American Wife

by Curtis Sittenfeld

If you've ever thought about Laura Bush and wondered, "How did she end up with him?" Curtis Sittenfeld has wondered the same thing. There are critically-acclaimed biographies you could read, if you want to get the details, but Sittenfeld uses fiction to go deeper. It's not possible, of course, to really know what it's like to be Laura Bush; but "American Wife" allows us to know exactly what it's like to be Alice Blackwell (nee Lindgren), a woman whose life story is very closely modeled around Bush's. When I started reading, I imagined the book would really get interesting once Alice met Charlie Blackwell, but I was soon so caught up in the fascinating character of Alice that I felt in no hurry for her to grow up and get married. Sittenfeld's pacing is perfect, somewhere between a page-turner and a character-driven literary novel.

Though the parallels to Laura Bush are plentiful, the reader can also relax and enjoy the story as fiction. At its core, the story asks, What is it like to set your own life aside to follow someone you love? Is it possible to be yourself while also unintentionally becoming a public figure? Does loyalty to your husband or wife take away from your loyalty to yourself?

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